Agusta-Bell AB 204B

Agusta-Bell AB 204B (c/n 3035, PH-UEY, formerly ´227´ of Koninklijke Marine / the Royal Netherlands Navy) on display during the Air Force Days 2013 (Luchtmachtdagen 2013), Volkel air base, June 2013.

On 20th October 1956, prototype of Bell Model 204 rotorcraft (also known by its military designation XH-40) performed its maiden flight. Approximately three years later, the helicopter entered operational service with the US Army – officially designated UH-1 Iroquois – and shortly after became one of the most iconic rotorcraft ever made.

There were approximately 16,000 examples of that rotorcraft built until 1987, when its production was officially ceased. The UH-1 was not only one of the most successful military helicopters in history of aviation but also was the starting point of entire rotorcraft family that, until nowadays, includes AH-1 Cobra, Bell 204/205 series, Bell 212/214 series and, finally, AH-1Z Viper and UH-1Y Venom – the last two rotorcraft have their roots in the initial Model 204 concept and are still being manufactured until today.

In 1960, Costruzioni Aeronautiche Giovanni Agusta made efforts to receive rights for manufacturing the Model 204 in Italy. At the beginning of the year, group of the company representatives led by Count Domenico Agusta himself, made a business trip to the Bell Helicopter seat in Texas to reach an agreement on terms and conditions of manufacturing that rotorcraft in Italy. It should be added that the Agusta company already had several years of experience in producing the Bell-developed helicopters. Eight years earlier, the Italian aviation manufacturer became the first in Europe to acquire license for Bell 47 rotorcraft.

The negotiations lasted just a few days and resulted in business success for Agusta. The company acquired rights to build the Model 204 in Italy – officially designated Agusta-Bell 204B – and preparations to launch the serial production in Cascina Costa started at full stretch. On 11th May 1961, the first Italian-made 204B helicopter performed its maiden flight. A few days later, it was officially presented to public at the 24th Paris Air Show in Le Bourget.

The AB 204B quickly found its first customers. At the beginning of next year, the first serial manufactured rotorcraft were delivered to AGIP Mineraria in Italy and CHC Helikopter Service in Norway.

Although initially the Model 204 was the civilian version of the UH-1, the Italian company developed also the military variant of the AB 204B. That modified rotorcraft was introduced into market in 1962 and the Royal Swedish Air Force became its first customer. Over the years, military versions of the AB 204B were also acquired by Austria, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.

The Royal Netherlands Navy purchased eight AB 204B helicopters. They were delivered in 1962-1963 and assigned to helicopter squadron of Marine Luchtvaartdienst (the Dutch Naval Air Service), based at the Valkenburg Naval Air Base. An interesting fact is that, during their service with the Dutch Navy, the rotorcraft were still designated UH-1, despite being the Italian-made AB 204B.

In the Dutch service, the helicopters were mainly used for transport duties and search-and-rescue tasks. Two rotorcraft were lost in accidents, therefore another example of the AB 204B was acquired in 1969.

Marine Luchtvaartdienst retired all its AB 204B by 1978. The helicopters were then sold to the USA, but it turned out that they are not compatible with Bell-made UH-1 due to being equipped with powerplant of Italian origin, as well as some of its accessories. Therefore, the ex-Dutch helicopters were intended for resale, however there was little interest in them. Finally, majority of those helicopters ended up in aviation museums.

In 2006, the Classic Aircraft Foundation from the Netherlands acquired the former Dutch Navy AB 204B ´227´ from Sweden. The rotorcraft was transported to the Netherlands and the foundation began with the long and complicated process of restoring the ´227´ to airworthy condition.

In 2012, the helicopter was for the first time introduced to public during Heldair show in the Netherlands. Next year, the ´227´ participated in the Air Force Days 2013 at Volkel, where our current Photo of the Week was taken.

Between 2017 and 2023, the AB 204B ´227´ was stored at National Dutch Aviodrome Museum in Lelystad. In the meantime, the foundation moved to Texel airfield and built its own hangar there. In August of 2023, the helicopter was moved from the museum to its new home in Texel. Currently, the Classic Aircraft Foundation continues the efforts to bring the ´227´ to airworthiness.

More information about the UH-1 Huey and the Bell 204 can be found in our previous articles: Bell (Dornier) UH-1D Iroquois / ´Huey´ versus ´Colt´ – the story of unusual aerial combat.

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